How Being an Ironman Is Like Being A Writer

So I should be able to finish a project, right?


 On August 18, 2013, at 9:11 PM, I became an Ironman. I have accomplished a lot of things in my 30 years on this planet, but there is nothing quite like this milestone … or so I thought. 

In the days after my race, I buried my face in my phone, looking at Twitter and Facebook updates, thanking my unbelievable support system, and reading congratulatory messages, when I saw this tweet about the creative process.

Hey, that’s pretty much like my Ironman

Hey, that’s pretty much like my Ironman

I said to myself, “well … that pretty much sums up my Ironman experience.” As a writer, I saw the pain and beauty of that process in words that made sense.

The fact is, that cycle of this-is-great to oh-GOD-what-have-I-signed-up-for to HOLY-CRAP-I-DID-IT has always driven me. It’s no accident that I gravitated toward long-distance running (3 marathons and more half marathons than I can count), and long-distance triathlon (3 70.3 races and the bike and run of a 4th, on top of my Ironman).

Here’s what was interesting for me, though. While I have NEVER quit a race (though I’ve walked) or cared whether I knew what I was doing, I’ve let the fear of not doing it “right” halt almost every one of my personal creative challenges. In sport, I know everyone makes mistakes on race day, and we just figure out what we need to do to get through. In my professional writing life, I subscribe to Marie Forleo’s “everything is figureoutable” mantra, do my best, learn some things, and move on.

So why did I quit writing that graphic novel, web series, novel, etc.? Why did I almost quit writing this?

It turns out I don’t actually care about the answer, because it may not change anything. What’s more important is creating the change. As a coach, I know how to do that.

I’d never just wake up and decide to run a marathon or toe the line at an Ironman. Those huge undertakings take months and months of preparation and practice, and creating something that’s worth it is no different (I know, DUH!). So I’m going to let my endurance sport brain help my creative brain, and make a plan for the three kinds of practice that I know make a difference: regular practice, specific practice, and focused practice.

The regular is obvious. I have a blog, a notebook, and some early drafts. I need to touch one of them every day. 

Specificity is about doing relevant things. Rock climbing isn’t great training for a triathlon, and only writing business proposals won’t help me write a graphic novel (actually, a photographic novel with my husband, Andy).

Focus is about having a goal for each session. For example, speed work is about getting faster (obviously). A long ride is about learning pacing and nutrition while building endurance. A writing session might be dedicated to finishing a scene, or spending some time figuring out who a character is and putting that into words. It might just be about getting 1500 words in a focused sprint without stopping to edit.

The better part of this year was spent working toward the greatest physical (and mental, really) accomplishment of my life. The journey and the day itself were both exercises in the cycle of hope-pain-despair-rally-celebration. My creative self needs similar dedication, and this post has really been my way of sorting out what that needs to look like and sort of making a public commitment (which I also do with a big athletic pursuit). It's also something that I'm sure other creatives struggle with, so I thought I'd share my own thought process in case it helps.